When talking about a specific object in English, an article precedes the name.  Whether to use “a” or “an,” and when to use “the” is a source of major confusion for learners of English. Though some linguists will object, the easiest solution is simply to eliminate these articles.  Many languages, like Japanese or Indonesian, get along just fine without such articles.  So, for example, “The book is on the shelf and a piece of paper is beside an elegant bed next to the window” would be literally translated in Japanese or Indonesian as: “Book on shelf and piece of paper beside elegant bed next to window.”  The reformed way of communication is just as clear without the articles.  If a word is not necessary for clear communication, why is it used? If necessary for clarification, other articles may be used like “this, that, all, some, many, few, every” so that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” should be “Apple every day keep doctor away.”  If I want to distinguish a movie that I saw with which the listener is not familiar, from the specific movie the listener and I have been discussing previously, I would say: “Movie I see last week very good, but this movie excellent.”  or  “… but movie you and I discuss excellent.”

If English would make these changes, by eliminating verb conjugation, and strive for consistency in all prefixes and suffixes, and all other grammar forms, get rid of gendered pronouns and apostrophes, stop adding “s” for plural noun, and stop using “a, an, the, be, am, is, are,” just these changes alone would make English a much easier language to learn than at present. Those who are inclined to resist changes should think about two things: (1) The greater ease by which their future descendents can learn English when they go to school, and (2) by making English easier for foreigners to learn, that will promote more people around the world learning English, and will make it easier for all of us to communicate. If we want the world to learn our language, then it is up to us to make some compromises so that our language is easier for others to learn.   In my view, all of these changes should be made, but each one could be made independently if resistance or inertia to the more drastic changes prevent their implementation. Some improvement is better than no changes at all.



To give a concrete example of these changes in grammar rules in action, the following paragraphs are presented, first with traditional grammar and second with the changes in grammar suggested in this chapter. In order to clarify the differences, only grammar changes are made here, and spelling changes are not made except for deleting plural “s” and adding a capital Z to replace apostrophe “s” for possession. Notice how easy it is to cover all the complex verb conjugation tenses with only a few words like “did,” “will,” and “until now.” Notice also how awkward the traditional pronoun use is, especially with the name of a person like “Pat,” who could be either male or female. Begin with the old grammar forms in this paragraph:

Pat has always traveled [present perfect] a lot. He or she was born [ simple past (passive] in Canada, but his or her parents had met [ past perfect] in Bangkok after his or her father had been living [ past perfect continuous] there for two years. They met [ simple past] one day while both of them were reading [ past continuous] their email at an internet shop in the evening.


Pat did alway travel much. They born at Canada, but they parent did meet at Bangkok after they father did live there for two year. PatZ mother and father did meet one day while both of they go to read theyZ email at internet shop at evening.

Now, try to read a longer paragraph, which is deliberately written with many confusing references to pronoun use, that is presented here in the old forms of grammar:

Pat’s father, who is Canadian, fell in love with the beautiful Thai woman on the day he met her. Pat’s mother and her family liked the handsome Canadian better than the other three men she had dated before. They soon became best friends, and without any regrets still today feel closest to each other. After they impatiently waited a year apart, Pat’s mother came to Canada and they got married. After another two years her family lost their house and they didn’t have anywhere to live, so they all came to Canada and started working in Pat’s father’s grocery store. Over the years they all became very close, and Pat grew up in the kindest family. For Pat, the worst part of his or her job is that it is impossible for him or her to be with them often.


PatZ father, who Canadian, did fall in love with beautiful Thai woman at day they did meet. PatZ mother and theyZ family did like handsome Canadian more good than other three man they did date before. They soon did become most good friend, and with no regret still today feel most close to each other. After they unpatiently wait a year apart, PatZ mother did come to Canada and they did get marry. After another two year PatZ motherZ family did lose theyZ house and they didnt have somewhere to live, so they all did come to Canada and did start to work in PatZ fatherZ grocery store. Over many year they all did become very close, and Pat did grow up in most kind family. For Pat, most bad part of PatZ job is that it unpossible for Pat to visit with they often.

Notice that this paragraph, with its many confusing pronoun references to “they” (which could mean to Pat, to either of his or her parents, or to his or her mother’s family), may require sometimes referring to a name in order to distinguish which “they” (being used here for both singular and plural third person) is meant. Notice most of all that this paragraph was written without any verb conjugation, or without using any forms of the verb “be, am, is, are, was, were, been.” If you can understand this paragraph you will have quickly adjusted to the changes in grammar called for in this chapter. Before reading the traditional version of the next paragraphs, try seeing if you can understand the new version of the paragraphs by remembering the changes suggested in this chapter. Here is the sample:

Pat live at Los Angeles now, but visit theyZ two parent and four grandparent at Canada for past few week, until now. Pat really enjoy to live at Los Angeles, but they most happy when they can come to visit they parent at least three time during year. Even though sometime unconvenient, Pat do not want something to interfere with theyZ visit to theyZ family, so Pat still like to see they often. Someone can tell they alway most close family.


Did you understand it? If you did, congratulations; you are now a communicator in simplified English.  If not, here is the same paragraph written in the old grammar:

Pat lives [simple present] in Los Angeles now, but has been visiting [present perfect continuous] his parents and four grandparents in Canada for the past few weeks. He really enjoys [simple present] living in Los Angeles, but he is happiest [simple present ] coming to visit his parents at least three times a year. Even though it is sometimes inconvenient, Pat doesn’t want anything to interfere with his visits to his family, so he still likes to see them often. Anyone can tell they have always been the closest family.


About englisheasylearning

Walter L. Williams, Ph.D., has taught at UCLA and as Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He taught English Language in Thailand and also as Fulbright Professor at Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia. He has published eleven books, including JAVANESE LIVES: WOMEN AND MEN IN MODERN INDONESIAN SOCIETY (Rutgers University Press).
This entry was posted in Why English is Difficult to Learn, and what to do about it and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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